New fund aims to support vets and their families

by Raffi Elliott

Last year’s 4 Day War emphasised the need to provide the families of Armenia’s servicemen and women with a stronger social safety net. After much deliberation, the Armenian government has called for the creation of a fund to provide long-term assistance to the families of wounded or fallen soldiers. The Insurance Foundation for Servicemen has set itself a mission to relieve the various NGOs which had previously been collecting funds in order to more effectively and transparently help military families.

According to Varoujan Avedikian, a Central Bank employee who also serves as the Foundation’s CEO on a volunteer basis, last year’s round of clashes revealed disturbing issues with the State’s ability to care for its servicemen. The government was also caught off guard by the number of private fundraising initiatives intended to supplement the meager state pensions received by military families.

This failure to coordinate the inflow of almost $ 12 million raised by well-intentioned Armenians around the World lead to concerns about transparency and efficiency. Some families ended up receiving much more than others who hadn’t received the same sort of media exposure.

This prompted the Armenian government to consider developing a permanent solution to ensure that those who put their life on the line for their country would be taken care of. The National Assembly tasked the Central Bank of Armenia with creating and managing a new foundation which would raise money for a fund, which could then be distributed transparently and equitably to all those affected.

The foundation, managed on an entirely volunteer basis by Central Bank employees, has already picked up where smaller civic initiatives, such as “Help our Defenders” and the ARAR foundation left off. The Central Bank was chosen because of its reputation as an independent entity. For the sake of maximum objectivity and inclusivity, the foundation has taken great care in selecting its nine board members. The government selected 3 board members, the Central Bank submitted another 3, while the last three members were approved by non-governmental organisations. As transparency tops the list of IFS’ priorities, all boardroom decisions, as well as funds collected or allocated are posted on their website, Three participating banks have greed to wave processing fees for beneficiary accounts.

The foundation pledges to support the families of all soldiers killed or wounded in action since the 1st of January 2017, though this might be retroactive as well.

People from around the world and Armenia have already donated over $ 150 000 to the fund, which has accumulated over $ 9.5 million in total capital at the time of writing. The IFS raises the rest of its capital by requiring Armenia’s 500 000 strong workforce to pay a monthly amount of 1000 Դ into the fund.

This decision was not without controversy. Rights groups and government watchdogs have argued that the Armenian people are already taxed enough. Some have asked why the already-high military budget couldn’t suffice.

The government, arguing that all citizens should share responsibility for the defence of the homeland, has never the less made amendments to the original proposal. The burden of paying this fee will be put on the employer of workers on minimum age and families with members in uniform.

Families of wounded or deceased servicemen are entitled to compensation totaling between 58 to 82 million  Դ (150 to 220 000 CAD)  depending on rank, health status or number of dependents. The fund shelves out an initial lump sum of between 5 and 10 million Դ (15 to 26 000 CAD). The remaining funds are distributed as a monthly pension over a twenty-year period.

The Fund has already disbursed to 26 families since the beginning of operations on the 1st of January. Mr. Avedikian insists that the families receiving these benefits have gone through the correct application process, and receive regular follow-ups.

According to Mr. Avedikian, through this Foundation, Armenia is pioneering the way communities care for their soldiers. He believes that Armenia’s servicemen and women will fight with reinvigorated courage, satisfied in the knowledge that their land and families will be taken care of.

He expounds that the Republic of Armenia is the only place on the planet which Armenians can be safe in, making it every Armenian’s responsibility to help preserve in any way possible. In his view, the Armenian Diaspora can help make this fund a success in many ways. He invites the international Armenian community to familiarise itself with the principles of transparency and trust on which this Foundation is built. If Armenians around the World help spread awareness about the Insurance Foundation for Servicemen, he believes, not only can we help secure stability for military families, but the model can be replicated for other purposes as well.

The Insurance Foundation for Servicemen’s website contains information on the organisation’s activities, reports, donation numbers, as well as information on how to donate to their cause.